The 89th installment of the annual Rocky Mountain showdown kicks off this Friday. The Colorado Buffaloes football team will take on its in-state rival, the Rams of Colorado State, for the Centennial Trophy.
For the Buffs, hopes are high that the team can repeat its dominant performance over the Rams from a year ago when the Buffs walked out of Sports Authority Field at Mile High with a 44-7 victory. That game saw a Colorado offense firing on all cylinders and a defense that didn’t let CSU get a first down until the second quarter. After the dust settled, it was the beginning of a dream season for the Buffaloes.
Both teams, for better or for worse, have undergone changes since that night. Can the Buffs throttle their Fort Collins counterparts once again? The CU Independent’s Justin Guerriero, Alex Pepper, Yama Radtke and Kyle Rini give their thoughts on how the showdown will unfold.
Justin Guerriero, Head Sports Editor: I’m going to cut straight to the chase here and begin by saying that I think the 2017 Colorado State Rams are a vastly underrated and misunderstood squad. Let me expand on that. I expect the Buffs to do impressive things this season and I have no doubt that #TheRise will continue this season. But the key to my worrying over the impending Rocky Mountain Showdown lies in the Rams’ ability to exploit potential weaknesses that have emerged on the field for Colorado.
Rams quarterback Nick Stevens played pretty bad in last year’s game at Sports Authority Field. Stevens completed just 6-of-20 passes for a measly 31 yards. He also added two picks to cement his place on the bench in the third quarter of the game. His performance reflected the overall struggles that the Rams experienced in the game, hence the final score.
But it’s important to note that Stevens had an impressive rebound by the end of 2016. He ended up throwing 19 touchdowns compared to just five picks. That’s not mentioning that he completed over 64 percent of his passes. What I’m getting at here is that I expect to see a more mature, intelligent and calculated performance by the Rams’ senior quarterback. I respect CU’s veteran defenders but believe that Stevens will be more of a threat than many are expecting.
The Rams also racked up 191 yards on the ground in their season opener against Oregon State last week. This could pose a problem to Colorado’s new linebackers Drew Lewis and Tarran Hasselbach.
Overall, I think the talented “Blackout Boyz” receiving corps will overwhelm CSU’s secondary. I have confidence in senior tailback Phillip Lindsay and sophomore quarterback Steven Montez too. I’m only looking at this game through a lens of caution. I think the Buffs will win this game, but not as comfortably as in 2016.
Final score: 34-21 Buffaloes.
Yama Radtke, Sports Staff Writer: There are many questions surrounding this year’s Colorado Buffaloes football team. How is newly appointed Steven Montez going to perform as CU’s new starting quarterback? How is the Colorado defense going to look without stars such as Chidobe Awuzie, Ahkello Witherspoon and Tedric Thompson? The most burning question of all to me, who is going to step up and emerge as a leader?
It’s true Montez is a relatively new at being the outright starter for the Buffaloes. After all, he is only a redshirt sophomore. But Montez also brings a poise and a confidence to the quarterback position. Last year Sefo Liufau passed for 11 touchdowns. As a back-up to Liufau, Montez passed for 9 touchdowns in limited action. He played half the games that Liufau played, and posted almost as many passing touchdowns as the starting quarterback. Montez has had a full offseason to prepare as his role as a starter and has returning wide receivers Devin Ross, Bryce Bobo and Shay Fields. Let’s also not forget he has senior running back Phillip Lindsay returning, who rushed for 1,189 yards and 16 touchdowns. Needless to say, Montez has the confidence and skillset to win this game and he has a stupendous supporting cast.
There are questions for the Buffs everywhere this year. I just believe that some of these questions will be answered in a big way against CSU this week.
Final score: CU wins 34-24 Buffs.
Kyle Rini, Assistant Sports Editor: Buffs fans are right to worry about this year’s showdown. If the history of this series isn’t enough to instill anxiety, CSU’s 58-point, 525-yard performance against a Pac-12 school should be. Sure, Oregon State’s not a juggernaut in the conference, but their visit to Fort Collins proved even worse for them than their game in Boulder last year.
While a lot of eyes will be on Nick Stevens throwing against the new-look secondary, I’m going to be more concerned with the fresh faces up front on the Buffs defense. CSU has a dangerous committee of running backs, all with different talents. Dalyn Dawkins echoes the shiftiness of Phillip Lindsay, while Marvin Kinsey Jr. has deadly speed. Add bruisers in Izzy Matthews and Rashaad Boddie and the Rams suddenly have multiple different ways to carve up the Buff’s defense.
While I like the potential of guys like junior nose tackle Javier Edwards and junior defensive end Leo Jackson III, they’re inexperienced and unproven. My gut tells me the Ram’s will see the weakness there and pound it up the middle early and often. CU’s only hope in that situation will be in their upperclassmen linebackers in senior Derek McCartney and junior Rick Gamboa. Gamboa in particular has always been an excellent run stopper.
I expect the run game to be key in CSU’s offensive attack. It will likely set up some effective play-action as well. While I have more faith in the secondary, they have inexperience and tough matchups as well. This defense can’t dominate the Rams like they did a year ago and that makes a blowout highly unlikely in my mind.
I still think CU takes this one. Even if the Ram’s put up points, Montez and Company are more than capable of responding against a pedestrian Colorado State defense. It will be a much closer game but the Buffs are still the better overall team.
Final Score: 35-27 Buffaloes.
Alex Pepper, Sports Staff Writer: Unfortunately for CU, things have been changing, both on offense and most importantly on defense. This is not last year’s team who fought into the AP Top 25 , nor is it the team that made the Pac-12 Championship. As much as I would like to root for the Buffs, I don’t think this is going to be their year to take home the Centennial Trophy.
The first piece missing from last year’s squad is former quarterback Sefo Liufau. Replacing him will be Steven Montez, a redshirt sophomore who stepped in for Liufau a of couple times in 2016. Montez made the most of his opportunities, going 2-1 as the starter, which included a riveting 41-38 win over Oregon. While Montez has shown promise, has already seen the field as a starter and has a similar skillset to Liufau, he may need another year or two before he can truly polish his game.
The biggest losses for the Buffs happened on defense. The Buffaloes lost key players from all over the defense, notably defensive backs Tedric Thompson, Ahkello Witherspoon and Chidobe Awuzie. They are also missing linebackers Kenneth Olugbode and Jimmie Gilbert. Of the defensive starters that the Buffaloes lost, four were draft picks.
It’s worth noting that CU hadn’t produced a single draft pick in the two previous years combined. Last year’s defense may have been the best defense that CU has ever had. Can this year’s defense answer the bell?
This year’s game will definitely be much closer than last year. I’m predicting a shootout, seeing as how CU’s defense is recovering and CSU is coming off a 58-27 victory over Oregon State. In contrast, the Buffaloes will be playing in their first game on Friday. I think it will come down to the wire, and I think CSU is going to take it home this year.
Final Score: 45-38 Rams.
Contact CU Independent Assistant Sports Editor Kyle Rini at email@example.com.
Contact CU Independent Head Sports Editor Justin Guerriero at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @TheHungry_Hippo.
Contact CU Independent Sports Writer Alex Pepper at Alexander.Pepper@colorado.edu.
Contact CU Independent Sports Staff Writer Yama Radtke at email@example.com.